N.J. minors would need parental consent to sign up for social media accounts under new bill

By: - December 11, 2023 3:08 pm

The bill would require an annual report from state officials on their ability to reduce the use of social media among children. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

A new bill advanced by an Assembly panel Monday would require children signing up for social media accounts to have their parents’ consent, and it would bar messaging between adults and children on certain platforms.

Under the legislation, social media companies would require New Jersey residents to verify they are at least 18 before signing up. If a minor wants to register, social media companies would need the consent and age verification of their parents or guardians within 14 days of opening the account.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), the bill’s sponsor, called social media a “clear and present danger that our children are facing today,” and noted that company whistleblowers have testified before Congress about addictive algorithms and the impact they have on young children.

“The provider of that service can know rightly who you are before you’re allowed to access that service through that platform. It’s the very least, in my opinion, we can do for our children,” said Conaway, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that internal documents from Instagram, owned by Facebook, show the company knows the platform is toxic for minors, specifically teen girls. A Facebook whistleblower testified in front of a Senate committee last month on harassment he saw on his daughter’s Instagram account. Congress is planning another hearing with social media executives to testify on online child sexual exploitation.

The bill does not state how people would verify their ages, but several websites exist for people to use their government-issued identification cards, like ID.me, the platform New Jersey uses to verify some unemployment claims. People would also be required to send in their credit card information for a 35-cent fee.

Shawn Hyland, director of advocacy for the New Jersey Family Policy Center, said while he supports the bill, it doesn’t go as far as other states that already have similar laws in place. He suggested requirements for ongoing supervision instead of one-time permission.

“Parental permission to create social media accounts enables parents to better protect their kids from the proven harms of social media,” he said.

Utah became the first state in the nation to require children under 16 to have parental consent to access social media apps, with the law going into effect in March 2024. Lawmakers in other states like Texas, Ohio, and Louisiana have introduced similar measures.

New Jersey’s legislation would require social media platforms to prohibit direct messaging between adult users and accounts held by minors. And the social media companies would be barred from collecting personal data from accounts from minors other than information to comply with state and federal law.

Business groups expressed concerns in their testimony over whether platforms with peer-to-peer interactions or e-commerce platforms like Venmo or Etsy would be subject to the direct messaging provision. The committee approved an amendment exempting certain apps used for financial or commercial purposes.

The Division of Consumer Affairs would be responsible for enforcing the legislation, including by issuing penalties and fines. Before issuing a fine, the division would be required to provide written notice of the violation to the social media companies, to be rectified within 30 days. Social media companies would face up to $2,500 for each violation.

The bill would also require an annual report from the Division of Consumer Affairs on the department’s ability to reduce the use of social media among children.

The bill’s Senate counterpart, introduced last week, has not been scheduled for a hearing.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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